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2019-09-14 › Drones Strike Big Saudi Oil Centers, and Houthis Claim Responsibility

 Drone attacks set two major oil processing centers ablaze in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and the Houthi faction in Yemen claimed responsibility, in one of the most dramatic strikes on the kingdom since the war in Yemen began four and a half years ago.

It was not clear how badly damaged the facilities were, but such strikes have the potential to disrupt world oil supplies. Between them, the two centers can process 8.45 million barrels of crude oil a day, amounting to the vast majority of the production in Saudi Arabia, which produces almost one-tenth of the world’s crude oil.

The attacks signaled a clear escalation in the ability of the Houthis, who are supported by Iran, to strike at Saudi Arabia, their enemy in Yemen’s civil war. The attacks hit deeper into Saudi territory than previous strikes, reaching targets some 500 miles from Yemen, and the Houthis claimed to have used 10 drones in the operation, which they said was one of the largest aerial operations they have carried out.

Iran has supplied drone technology to the Houthis fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, a panel of experts reported in January 2018 to the United Nations Security Council.

United Nations investigators say the Houthis have since obtained a more advanced drone than those cited in that report, with a range of 930 miles, The Associated Press reported.

The Houthis have attacked Saudi infrastructure before, primarily hitting less vital targets with missiles that had much shorter ranges.

A former senior executive of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, said the company had enough reserves to keep world supplies steady if the plants were shut down for a few days, but a long disruption would be another matter.

While there were no reports of casualties, the attacks struck at the core of the Saudi economy. They came just as Aramco accelerated plans for what could be the largest initial public offering of stock in the world, an event closely watched by investors globally.

How the War in Yemen Became a Bloody Stalemate — and the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World

Saudi Arabia thought a bombing campaign would quickly crush its enemies in Yemen. But three years later, the Houthis refuse to give up, even as 14 million people face starvation.

The Saudi interior ministry reported fires at the two processing centers, in Abqaiq and Khurais, before dawn on Saturday, and later said they had been attacked with drones. In a statement, the ministry said both fires had been “controlled and contained,” the Saudi-owned news network Al Arabiya reported, but gave no further detail.

A Houthi spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Sare’e, said in a statement broadcast by Al-Masirah, the faction’s news organization, that the group’s forces “carried out a massive offensive operation of 10 drones targeting Abqaiq and Khurais refineries.”

The Houthis — supported by Iran, the kingdom’s chief foe in the region — have tried to take the fight to Saudi Arabia before, though their efforts have been pinpricks compared to the devastation in Yemen.

The war in Yemen began in 2015, when Houthi rebels ousted the established government from most of the country. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with some support from the United States, then entered the fighting to push the Houthis back.

The conflict has killed thousands of civilians — many of them in Saudi airstrikes using American-made weapons — while grinding to a stalemate. It has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, put millions of people at risk of starvation and left millions of others homeless.

In a report presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva this week, a panel of experts said both sides in the conflict were committing horrific human rights abuses including arbitrary killings, rape and torture, with impunity. The atrocities underscored the collective failure of the international community, the panel said.

After a period of relative calm, following a cease-fire brokered late last year, tensions have escalated again in recent months. Houthi forces attacked Saudi pipelines and other oil infrastructure in May, temporarily halting the flow of crude oil, and in June they struck an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding dozens of people.

In July, in a major blow to the Saudi-led coalition, the United Arab Emirates, which had been providing arms, money and, crucially, ground troops in Yemen, announced a rapid pullout from a conflict that had become too costly. The move left diplomats and analysts wondering whether Saudi Arabia would continue the war on its own.

Although the Trump administration has been a vocal supporter of Saudi efforts to deter Iran and its allies in the region, congressional opposition to the sale of arms and the deployment of extra troops in Saudi Arabia has limited the scope of support from the United States.

Stanley Reed and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

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